Auschwitz: a "Resettlement" Camp Elisabeth Stephens

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Auschwitz: A “Resettlement” Camp

Elisabeth Stephens

Professor Henri Miller

American Civilization

October 9, 2013

World War II is considered a dark time in our history. Germany was in a fragile state after the losses they experienced during the First World War. This provided a perfect setting for Hitler to come to power and influence the great minds of a developed nation to commit one of the worst atrocities known in human history. Adolf Hitler was a decorated veteran of World War I and when he rose to power in post WWI Germany, he had an ideal for German hegemony in Europe and a racially pure society. One of the outcomes of Hitler’s goals was the horrific death camp, Auschwitz. This paper will discuss what led to the establishment of the Auschwitz camp, the daily horrors of the camp, and the eventual destruction and effect Auschwitz played in WWII.

World War II started in 1939, twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Germany was resentful of the harsh terms of the Treaty because they lost territory and were left in a weak economic and political state. Hitler was able to rise to power because the people were looking for a leader to return them to glory. He appointed himself Fuhrer in 1934. The Fuhrer believed that Germany needed a “pure” race and the only way to have “living space” for his plans of a perfect race was to go to war and expand German territory. He broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty first with the invasion of Austria in 1938. It was the invasion of Poland in 1939 that led Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany1. Hitler had already started his plans of eliminating undesirables by ordering Jews, Gypsies, the homosexual, and the handicapped into Ghettos. This isolated Jews and others from the rest of Germany and forced them to live under miserable conditions. “The Germans regarded the establishment of ghettos as a provisional measure to control and segregate Jews while the Nazi leadership in Berlin deliberated upon options to realize the goal of removing the Jewish population”2. It wasn’t until the “Final Solution” was implemented in 1941 that ghettos were destroyed and Jews were officially being deported to concentration camps3. The largest concentration camp was Auschwitz, located in Poland.

The first Auschwitz camp was originally built to hold Poland political prisoners, but it quickly grew to be a killing factory for the mass extermination of the Jewish population. Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) was the SS Nazi leader who was responsible for the three Auschwitz camps and he is considered the second most powerful man during Nazi Germany4. Thousands of Jews were shipped to the three Auschwitz camps daily. The original Auschwitz camp held prisoners and medical supplies and it was the location for Block 11 and the Black Wall. Block 11 was a place for torture and punishment and the Black Wall was an execution wall. The motto, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes One Free), looming over the entrance to the camp served as an ironic message to the prisoners doomed to die there5. The second camp built was Birkenau in 1942. This camp held the gas chambers and ovens and was the main site for killing. It was much larger than the original camp and it held most of the prisoners. The last camp built, Buna-Monowitz, was used to house the prisoners who were for forced labor6.

The Jews were transported like cattle for days, packed in tight so one couldn’t move an inch. They weren’t fed any food or water during the trip and they were expected to excrete on themselves. Those that did survive the hopeless trip were ushered down a ramp at Auschwitz II: Birkenau where they were forcibly separated from their families. They were ordered to leave their belongings and were organized into two lines. One line was for the fit and healthy, the ones chosen to live and work. The second line was for the elderly, young, ill, and women. They weren’t the ideal worker and being organized into this line sentenced them to their death. None of the Jews knew their fate and many thought they were being resettled for their own safety. In a secret report written to SS-Col. von Herff and Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Gricksch explains the ultimate evil purpose of the Auschwitz camps after he inspected the full operation in 1943.

“The Auschwitz camp plays a special role in the resolution of the Jewish question. The most advanced methods permit the execution of the Fuhrer-order in the shortest possible time and without arousing much attention. The so-called “resettlement action” runs the following course: The Jews arrive in special trains (freight cars) toward evening and are driven on special tracks to areas of the camp specifically set aside for this purpose. There the Jews are unloaded and examined for their fitness to work by a team of doctors, in the presence of the camp commandant and several SS officers. At this point anyone who can somehow be incorporated into the work program is put in a special camp. The curably ill are sent straight to a medical camp and are restored to health through a special diet. The basic principle behind everything is: conserve all manpower for work. The previous type of “resettlement action” has been thoroughly rejected, since it is too costly to destroy precious work energy on a continual basis.

The unfit go to cellars in a large house which are entered from outside. They go down five or six steps into a fairly long, well-constructed and well-ventilated cellar area, which is lined with benches to the left and right. It is brightly lit, and the benches are numbered. The prisoners are told that they are to be cleansed and disinfected for their new assignments. They must therefore completely undress to be bathed. To avoid panic and to prevent disturbances of any kind, they are instructed to arrange their clothing neatly under their respective numbers, so that they will be able to find their things again after their bath. Everything proceeds in a perfectly orderly fashion. Then they pass through a small corridor and enter a large cellar room which resembles a shower bath. In this room are three large pillars, into which certain materials can be lowered from outside the cellar room. When three- to four-hundred people have been herded into this room, the doors are shut, and containers filled with the substances are dropped down into the pillars. As soon as the containers touch the base of the pillars, they release particular substances that put the people to sleep in one minute. A few minutes later, the door opens on the other side, where the elevator is located. The hair of the corpses is cut off, and their teeth are extracted (gold-filled teeth) by specialists (Jews). It has been discovered that Jews were hiding pieces of Jewelry, gold, platinum etc., in hollow teeth. Then the corpses are loaded into elevators and brought up to the first floor, where ten large crematoria are located. (Because fresh corpses burn particularly well, only 50-100 lbs. of coke are needed for the whole process.) The job itself is performed by Jewish prisoners, who never step outside this camp again.

The results of this “resettlement action” to date: 500,000 Jews. Current capacity of the “resettlement action” ovens: 10,000 in 24 hours.”7

This report explains the atrocities Auschwitz played in the effective extermination of the Jewish population. Not many people knew Hitler’s “final solution” nor did many realize that thousands of Jews were being gassed to death every day in the Birkenau camp. There were four large crematoria at the Birkenau camp, holding “eight gas chambers and forty-six ovens that could dispose of some 4,400 corpses per day.”8 The deadly gas that “put the people to sleep in one minute” is Zyklon-B. The 10% that were chosen to survive and work lived under terrible conditions, enduring disease, starvation, cramped living quarters, and brutal schedules. They were expected to stand for hours early in the morning for roll call and any who fell or were too weak to work were brutally beaten.

Auschwitz is also historically remembered as the site for many inhumane medical experiments. The Nazi German doctors conducting experiments are very infamous for the cruelty and carelessness towards human life. One experiment, conducted by Professor Clauberg, involved the mass sterilization of Jewish and Polish women at the camp, often including complications such as hemorrhaging or death. Another infamous doctor was Josef Mengele, responsible for the death of hundreds of pairs of twins for autopsies and examination. Prisoners also had to endure other forms of torture for “medical purposes”, including testing deadly drugs and having acidic products rubbed into their skin to examine the effects9. For most prisoners sent to Auschwitz, there was no hope.

Today there is still debate over how many Jews and other prisoners died at Auschwitz. There are an estimated 6 million European Jewish deaths at the hands of Nazi Germany and Auschwitz is the grave for an estimated 1.1 million of those10. Auschwitz was finally liberated on January 27, 1945 by Soviet forces. When Nazi’s learned of the approaching forces, they did everything they could to destroy evidence of the vast numbers of killings at the camp. They burned the crematoria, ovens, and documentation of the prisoners, experiments, and deaths, leaving only the sick and dying behind. Any that were well enough to march were forced to abandon the camp and march for miles into Germany. When the Russian army arrived, only 7,650 prisoners survived and were liberated from their doomed death11. The man who was in charge of the camp and responsible for a million Jewish deaths, Himmler, went into hiding after the camp was liberated. “On May 23, 1945, while undergoing a body search, Himmler killed himself by biting down on a cyanide capsule hidden in his mouth for that very purpose.”12 Adolf Hitler also committed suicide on April 30, 1945, shortly after the liberation of Auschwitz. In an effort to convict the main leaders and doctors responsible for some of the atrocities of WWII, the Nuremberg Trials were held in 1945-46 by the Allied powers. Some of the men responsible were sentenced to death, but most were free to return to living their lives; the same cannot be said for the millions who wrongfully lost their lives due to an embedded anti-Semitic ideology. Many people wonder how such an intellectually advanced country led by some of the smartest men could commit the horrendous crimes they did. Regardless, Auschwitz and the Nazi Germans stationed there played a large role in the genocide of a race, all in the name of Germany, the motherland.


A&E Television Networks, LLC, "" Accessed October 10, 2013.

Gricksch, Sturmbannfuhrer. University of South Florida, "Auschwitz." Accessed October 10, 2013., "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State." Accessed October 10, 2013.

Rosenberg, Jennifer., "Auschwitz Concentration and Death Camp." Accessed October 10,


Statistic Brain, "World War II Statistics." Last modified 9 3, 2013. Accessed October 10, 2013.

Strzelecka, Irena. Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, "Medical Experiments in Auschwitz."

Accessed October 10, 2013.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Ghettos." Accessed October 10, 2013.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Heinrich Himmler." Last modified June 10, 2013. Accessed

October 10, 2013.

1 A&E Television Networks, LLC, "" Accessed October 10, 2013.

2 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Ghettos." Accessed October 10, 2013.

3 "Ghettos."

4 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Heinrich Himmler." Last modified June 10, 2013. Accessed October 10, 2013.

5 Rosenberg, Jennifer., "Auschwitz Concentration and Death Camp." Accessed October 10, 2013.

6 “Auschwitz Concentration and Death Camp.”

7 Gricksch, Sturmbannfuhrer. University of South Florida, "Auschwitz." Accessed October 10, 2013.

8, "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State." Accessed October 10, 2013.

9 Strzelecka, Irena. Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, "Medical Experiments in Auschwitz." Accessed October 10, 2013.

10 Statistic Brain, "World War II Statistics." Last modified 9 3, 2013. Accessed October 10, 2013.

11 “Auschwitz Concentration and Death Camp."

12 “Heinrich Himmler.”

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